Despite conflicting reports, women should get annual mammograms over the age of 40 and conduct monthly self-exams at any age, according to a local doctor.
The latest information about breast cancer and screening options were part of a special program for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Wednesday at a Senior Circle meeting.
Officials say it is crucial women educate themselves on breast health, especially with breast cancer still affecting one out of eight woman in their lifetime.
It is really something you need to “take ownership of and maintain,” said Bruce Hawkins, director of diagnostic imaging at Payson Regional Medical Center.
Hawkins and Dr. Cynthia Booth said self breast exams remain the leading detection method. Unfortunately, not all women check their breasts and those that do, do so on an infrequent basis.
Ilona Swenson, director of the local breast cancer support group, said she had never been one to check her breasts regularly. One afternoon while in the shower, she discovered a golf ball-size lump. It seemed odd, but because she couldn’t remember the last time she had checked, she didn’t know if it was new.
She had it checked and it turned out to be cancer.
Now 30 years in remission, Swenson said she still gives herself monthly self-exams and makes a point to do it the same time each month, that way she knows if something has changed.
Booth, with Preferred Women’s Care, said breast cancer is something she sees quite a lot working in Rim Country.
And many of her older clients ask her when they can stop getting mammograms, believing once they reach a certain age they are no longer at risk.
“My answer to that question is this: when it does not matter to you anymore,” she said. “If you don’t care if you get breast cancer or if you don’t care if you get another cancer ... then stop checking.”
Booth recommends mammograms every year for women over 40. And all women should get a clinical breast examination. If you have a family history of breast cancer, you may need to get mammograms starting earlier.
Booth said she cannot count the number of women who come in every year who found a breast lump and it turned out to be cancer.
At PRMC’s diagnostic imaging center, a state-of-the-art soft touch mammography makes getting a scan easier and more comfortable. The outpatient facility combines full-field digital mammography with a new breast cushion, the MammoPad, easing discomfort.
Hawkins said their technicians also have a combined 50 years of experience in mammography.
Images are usually sent to a physician within 24 hours and technicians are trained when to take additional pictures for extra density, said Renee Harrigan, a radiology technician.
“We do everything we can to make a very trying and nervous situation as positive as we can,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins and Booth said they could not stress how important regular screenings are, at home and with a doctor. And catching breast cancer early is key. The five-year relative survival rate for Stage 1 breast cancer is 98 percent. There is only a 24 percent chance of survival for a more advanced form of the cancer.
One woman at Wednesday’s luncheon asked Booth how important lifestyle was in preventing the disease.
Booth said it is very important and not just for breast cancer, but all types of cancer.
She said eating well and exercise could lessen your risk. It has also been shown that drinking more than two glasses of alcohol a day increases the likelihood of getting breast cancer.
After the diagnosis
But for women who have been diagnosed, they are not alone.
Jan Parsons, the Senior Circle advisor, said there are a host of resources available in Rim Country for those with or recovering from breast cancer as well as other types of cancer.
The Senior Circle’s Cancer Gift Closet was just recently remodeled and has a more inviting and soothing atmosphere for clients, Parsons said.
In the Cancer Closet, Parsons and staff fit clients for wigs, scarves, breast prosthesis and offer information on additional resources.
For clients without insurance, the wig and prosthesis are often free. The American Cancer Society funds the closet.
Parsons says she usually fits roughly half a dozen women for wigs and prosthesis each month.
Every three months, the Senior Circle hosts the Look Good Feel Better program. The latest was held Tuesday and six women currently undergoing cancer treatment were fitted with wigs and shown beauty techniques. The women all received a free cosmetic kit, filled with name-brand makeup. Stylist Terry Brydon helped fit the women for wigs.
Harrigan said feeling better about how you look when going through treatment is huge. She praised the Senior Circle for offering these services.
Also offered through the center is the Road to Recovery program. A driver is available to shuttle women to and from their in-town oncology appointments, Parsons said. Sadly, only one woman took advantage of the Road to Recovery program recently. Parsons said people just don’t know it is an option.
For support, there is the Reach for Recovery and Reaching Out Support Group.
The Reach for Recovery program is designed to help women cope with breast cancer. Volunteers, who are all breast cancer survivors, meet one-on-one with a woman in their home and offer support and information, said Aggie Hansen, a founding member of the support group.
Women can also attend the monthly support group meeting, which is held the second Thursday at the Mount Cross Lutheran Church log cabin, 601 E. Highway 260, from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.
Hansen said she started the group in 1995 after moving to Payson from the Valley and discovering there was no such support group.
Hansen said she and three other women started meeting at the church and never stopped.
Having had breast cancer twice, Hansen said having a place to go, vent and get support has been huge. She wants to give that to other women and let them know they can survive.
“(The group) lets you know that you are not alone,” she said.
She said the biggest challenge is letting women know they exist. Often women just diagnosed with the disease don’t know where to turn for help and calling up a stranger from the group may be awkward. They are working on ways to reach more women without breaking any privacy laws.
When women finally find the support group, “they always say, ‘I wish I had known about you from the beginning,’” Hansen said.
“Whether you have had your surgery, are waiting for your surgery or a long term survivor, we exchange information and support,” said Swenson.
To request a visit from a Reach for Recovery volunteer, call Susie Bossert at (928) 580-0817 or Barbara Sapp at (928) 468-0930.
For more information on the Senior Circle, at 215 N. Beeline Highway, call (928) 472-9290.
How to give a self-exam
Start at the sternum and instead of going around the breast, think of it as a square. Starting at the top corner, go down, back up and work your way across the breast. Use the pads of the fingers, not the fingertips, recommends Dr. Cynthia Booth. And don’t forget to check underneath the armpits. Repeat the exam monthly.